Obituary: Teacher Robert E. Lynch, 90, survived mine blast on WWII destroyer

08/15/2014 5:29 PM

08/15/2014 5:31 PM

Robert Earl Lynch, a longtime Sacramento teacher who was injured in a deadly mine explosion on one of the most attacked destroyers in the Pacific during World War II, died Aug. 11 of a stroke in Sparks, Nev., his family said. He was 90.

Unable to find work as an accountant in state government, Mr. Lynch earned a teaching credential in 1952 and taught math to sixth-graders at Sutterville Elementary. He was a kind, soft-spoken man who connected with youngsters and spent 30 years at elementary and middle schools in Sacramento.

“He really wanted to teach high school and kept asking to move up,” said his stepson-in-law Ralph Montaño. “But they told him they really wanted him to stay as an elementary school teacher. Almost all of the teachers then were women, and they told him that a lot of the kids didn’t have a male role model at home.”

Mr. Lynch served his country in the Navy aboard the USS La Vallette, which was the only American destroyer to be both torpedoed and mined during World War II. He boarded in 1943 and served 30 months on the vessel, following repairs for damage sustained in an air torpedo attack in the Solomon Islands that killed 22 crew members and wounded four.

He was manning one of the ship’s big guns in February 1945 when the La Vallette hit a mine at the entrance to Manila Bay in the Philippines. The blast threw him into the air, and he landed hard on sheet metal over the gun, breaking his back. He was one of 24 men wounded in the attack, which killed seven crew members.

“He said he would have been broken in two and died if he hadn’t been wearing his life vest,” Montaño said.

Mr. Lynch, who was born in 1923 in Ajo, Ariz., went to college on the GI Bill after the war and earned an accounting degree from Fresno State University. He turned down a job with an oil and gas company in Bakersfield because he had heard that there were good state jobs in Sacramento.

The lead didn’t pan out, and he struggled to find work as a newly married man. He changed tires at service stations and sold vitamins door to door before deciding to be a teacher after seeing a 1951 film, “Take Care of My Little Girl,” about a young woman struggling to adjust to life in college, Montaño said.

In addition to Sutterville, he taught at Phoebe Hearst Elementary, California Middle School and other schools. He retired from the Sacramento City Unified School District in 1982.

A Land Park resident for 40 years, he devoted himself in retirement to caring for his wife, Vera, who had dementia and died after 50 years of marriage. He married Anita Stempel-Lynch in 2000, left Sacramento and lived in several states until the coupled settled in Nevada in 2008.

Mr. Lynch, who served four years in the Coast Guard Reserve, attended reunions with shipmates from the La Vallette, which earned 10 battle stars and was credited with shooting down 11 enemy planes in World War II. He subscribed to a newsletter for veterans published by Lorraine Akins and Mary Breedlove, the daughters of a La Vallette crew member.

“He was a very special guy, very pleasant,” Akins said. “He was the nicest guy.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Lynch is survived by a stepdaughter, Sonja Turner-Montaño; a stepson, Jason Turner; and three grandchildren. A private service is planned.

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